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Delegation:  Why we avoid it and how to get better.

The number of conversations I have with clients around delegating and burnout has increased recently. This week an article landed in my inbox that shed some light on the subject for me. It seems that women delegate less due to society’s expectations of us, our own beliefs around delegation, and our lived experience when it comes to delegating that reinforces our beliefs. 

Although women tend to struggle with the delegation the most, it is a common struggle that many of my clients experience, male or female.

Here is the typical cycle I see with my clients across the spectrum when they try to delegate.  

  1. They assign a task to a team member.  
  2. The task is completed {late, sub-standard, not complete, lacking detail, etc.}.
  3. My client ends up re-doing the work to meet the deadline.
  4. Repeat steps 1-3.

Let’s unpack this cycle to understand what’s really at play here. After all, we cannot change what we cannot see. 

Current Beliefs   

 

A few underlying beliefs are present, keeping clients stuck in this cycle of unsuccessful delegation. These beliefs include:

  • “No one can do {the work} as fast nor to the quality as I can.”
  • “It will take too long to train someone else to do {the work}.” 
  • “Delegating takes too much time that we don’t have.”

In the story I mentioned above, all of these beliefs are true. As a result, clients experience poor quality work, missed deadlines, and additional work when they delegate, reinforcing the idea that delegation is not worth the effort and that it’s better to complete the work themselves.  

 

New Beliefs

 

To change our views on delegation and be more successful, we need to start with a new set of beliefs. Before we try to delegate more, we must rework the programming that drives our actions.  

Here are some new thoughts I encourage my clients to try on:

  • Delegation takes time upfront but pays off in the long run.
  • Second, delegation helps avoid burnout and cycles of overwork.
  • Third, delegation helps build skills and competencies in team members.

 

Travelling the Path from Doing it All to Delegating

 

When you start on the path towards delegation, the first obstacle to overcome is our beliefs.  With all changes we set out to make, we start with embodying a new set of beliefs. It’s a journey travelled one step at a time. Here’s how I describe what’s happening inside the brain:

Picture two different paths inside your brain — both get you to the desired destination of completed, timely deliverables.  

One is a superhighway; it’s the autobahn. You do all the driving; you’re quick and efficient and know your way around. You know all exits, pit stops, and gas stations. 

The other is a gravel road. This gravel road is a direct path to your destination, but you travel slower, you are unfamiliar with the road and there are no streetlights or GPS helping you find your way.  You have to rely on others to be successful.

Delegation forces you to get off the autobahn and onto the gravel road. So, naturally, you could experience resistance to this changing of paths. It can be uncomfortable and, without support, it may be assaulting your nervous system, forcing you back onto the highway. This cycle could turn you into a hostage of your productivity.  

Here is an outline of the step-by-step process I use with my clients to help them acclimatize to the new way:

 

Step 1: Anchor In New Beliefs

 

What do you need to believe to make delegation a part of your leadership toolbox? In most leaders I work with, it’s the following:

  • Delegation is the only way for me to continue to grow my business and the team.
  • Delegation serves my team and me.  It helps me avoid overwork and burnout and allows my team to develop skills and abilities.
  • Delegation is not a passing off of responsibilities; instead, it is an invitation to join in the success of our team’s work. 

Spending time reflecting on what belief you’re currently operating from and replacing it with one or more of the examples above is the first step to successful delegation.

 

Step 2: Start Small

 

Create a safe environment.

Identify one or two small tasks that you are comfortable handing over to a team member. These tasks should be ones that you feel satisfied that the team member knows how to complete and which, if not done correctly, give you time to pivot without significant consequences.  

 

Step 3: Communicate All Details

 

Often delegation efforts do not succeed because we didn’t communicate all the relevant details about the work.  We hold back because we don’t want to appear to be micromanaging the job when, in fact, the opposite happens, and we set our team members up to fail by omitting critical details.  So a quick framework that’s easy to remember is this: Who does what? By when? And how will we follow up?

  1. Who: Outline everyone involved in the work.
  2. Does What: Specifically state what each person mentioned above will be doing. Describe the finished condition of the work in as much detail as possible.
  3. When: What date or time does the finished work need to be completed?  Avoid using statements like “end of the day” or “middle of next week,” as these are subject to interpretation and mean different things to different people. For example, 4 pm on Friday is more precise than “by the end of the week.”  
  4. Follow Up: This simple and often missed step makes or breaks delegation.  It is less likely to be viewed as micromanaging when you set up an expectation for follow-up upfront and check-in midway.  The antidote to micromanaging is asking permission to follow up at the beginning of the delegation cycle.

 

Step 4: Reflect and Review

 

As you experience the journey from “doing it all” to “sharing the work”, it’s important to reflect on the experience. So here are some questions for you to consider as you move from not delegating to leveraging delegation:

  • What was the experience of delegating like for you? For your team member?
  • What, if anything, would you do differently next time you need to delegate?
  • How did this experience reinforce your new beliefs when it comes to delegating

The only thing stopping you from embracing and leveraging delegation as a leadership tool is your beliefs and subsequent actions. However, following this simple four-step approach to leaning into this new skill can be the game-changer needed for you to lead with impact.  

 

Further reading on this topic …

 

I write these articles to support leaders in becoming more effective by embracing all parts of themselves and increasing their capacity to practice empathy.

Thank you for being here.  

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InsideoutEmpathy

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